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The Welsh Itinerary
The first Welsh trip we took was an imaginary one, our fingers tracing roads, rivers, towns and villages on a colourful map. We made a list of things we wanted to see in eight days – it included Cardiff and Snowdon, Merlin’s Maze, Welsh castles (as many as possible, please), Brecon Beacons, industrial heritage sites, Hay-on-Wye and the biggest garden in Wales. The list, as it turned out later, demonstrated that we were overly optimistic about our own possibilities and the possibilities of public transport in Wales. We discovered this only after we had arrived there but the fact that we had to shorten our list did not diminish our enjoyment.
Luckily, there were many arrangements we were able to make in Poland, a National Express return coach ticket from London to Cardiff being one of them. We bought it online, printed it and presented proudly to the driver at Victoria Station one month later. It saved us time and helped to plan in advance.
We spent quite a lot of time surfing the Net in search of accommodation. The initial plan to find an independent flat/house for the seven participants through the Inter Home did not work; the houses which were available were either too remote or too small or they were not where we wanted them to be, especially as we knew we would have to rely on public transport. Many hotels had either been booked or priced beyond our budget. Then we found a perfect solution – both in terms of location and budget – Cardiff Backpackers – a hostel for people of all ages (thank God for that) in the centre of Cardiff, just a five-minute walk from the Millenium Stadium. The rooms accommodated up to 8 people on bunk beds and cost £16 per night (including breakfast). The staff were friendly and helpful, the kitchen well-equipped. There was a TV lounge (with books!) and Internet access. We booked and paid online as we did for another night which we spent in the north of Wales, in Caernarfon.
When you look at the map Wales looks small and ‘manageable’ so we thought getting around would be relatively easy. What we did not know was that some places have no direct train connections and that travelling by bus can be time consuming and takes longer than a cursory look at a map would suggest. At one point, after finding out that a train journey from Cardiff to Bangor would take us 4 hours and that we would have to change at Crewe, we remarked jokingly that travelling around Wales involves going to... England. The journey went smoothly though as did all the other journeys which we took mostly by local buses or coaches. They took us along scenic routes and the views more than made up for the time we ‘wasted’ getting from place to place.
We studied guidebooks and materials about Wales in Poland and knew what we wanted to explore, but as soon as we got to London we went to the Welsh Centre to find out more and we left not much wiser than at the beginning. There were no brochures or leaflets that we would find of real interest. The general conclusion we drew from our various attempts at obtaining information is that ‘the smaller, the better’; local tourist information offices seem to know more and go out of their way to help you. Also, what we were interested in was something local and unique and not the general, ‘sanitised’ version of a place that many brochures present.
Finding materials and contacts
We went to Wales on an ethnographic study tour with the aim of exploring culture, places and people and it was this ‘human touch’ that made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We met people from different walks of life; Dr Rex Berridge, Head of Language and Learning Centre at University of Wales in Aberystwith told us about their exchange programme which we are hoping to develop in the future. Nicky Thompson, ‘a friend of a friend’, impressed us with her hospitality and a wonderful Welsh dinner for 7, the owner of a small private hostel in Caernarfon took us in the day before his wedding and strangers we stopped in the streets talked very openly about what it meant for them to be Welsh. Many of the materials produced by the participants of the project are a result of those unique, personal meetings, which no amount of surfing the Net and theory can replace.
Enjoyable though it was, the trip was quite expensive. The grants we received from British Council and IATEFL Poland helped to cover the cost of travel and accommodation but we also had to rely on our own resources.
Click here to read the Welsh Diary
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